Ensuring all attendees are welcome at the 2017 AVMA Convention in Indianapolis

Diversity-Inclusion-LandingThe recent law passed in the state of Indiana regarding religious freedom has sparked an outcry and has raised concerns for us regarding our 2017 annual convention, scheduled July 21-25, 2017, in Indianapolis.

The law poses many unsettling questions and leaves us facing a disturbing problem: we and our members are concerned that not all of our attendees will be welcomed in Indiana, and that some may face discrimination. In addition, we are concerned that access to quality animal health care to some groups of the Indiana public may be compromised by this law. Neither is acceptable to the AVMA. We join the growing number of companies who encourage the state of Indiana to revisit this law and take additional measures to prevent its interpretation as enabling discrimination, and we’re encouraged by the recent announcement that the Indiana legislature intends to do so.

Veterinarians are compassionate, trustworthy, and highly educated people. Their race, religion, cultural background, ethnicity, age, disability status, veteran status, gender and sexual orientation do not change these facts, or the fact that they are human beings who are entitled to fair and equal treatment. And while we value and support all of these freedoms, we do not believe any of them to be mutually exclusive of another. Ultimately, the AVMA is committed to diversity and inclusion in the veterinary profession.

The situation in Indiana is evolving rapidly, and we’re watching it closely. Dr. Ron DeHaven, our CEO, was personally contacted by Gov. Pence and voiced our concern about potential discriminatory practices and about our members’ well-being . Dr. DeHaven encouraged the legislative clarification that the Governor is seeking. The AVMA Board of Directors will be discussing the issue at their upcoming April board meeting and we’ll keep you informed as the situation evolves from an AVMA perspective.

We need a diverse profession to serve the diverse needs of society, and the AVMA will strive to ensure that all attendees are welcome at the Indianapolis convention and every AVMA convention.

33 thoughts on “Ensuring all attendees are welcome at the 2017 AVMA Convention in Indianapolis

  1. As Associate Director for International and Diversity Initiatives at the AVMA, I would like to unequivocally state that the AVMA is committed to ensuring all are welcome and treated equitably during our 2017 Annual Convention, which will take place July 21-25, 2017 in Indianapolis. It is unfortunate that a recent VPN article led its story about AVMA’s commitment to ensuring all are welcome in Indianapolis in 2017 with a headline implying that the Association is in agreement with Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

    As indicated in this and a subsequent blog post, AVMA leadership and staff were concerned when we learned that Governor Pence signed into law the Indiana RFRA earlier this year. Our concern centered on negative impacts this law might have on 2017 Convention attendees. We reached out to the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association (LGVMA) for input from a group of colleagues most likely to be directly affected by this new law. The AVMA CEO spoke with Governor Pence and Indianapolis Mayor Ballard. Additionally, the Director of the AVMA Convention and Meeting Planning Division spoke with the Indiana Convention Center to let them know of our concerns and our deep commitment to ensuring that all AVMA Convention attendees would be treated equitably while in Indianapolis in 2017. Our comments, added to those of many other groups within and outside of Indiana, led to clarifying legislation being enacted by the Indiana legislature shortly thereafter. On learning of this subsequent action, the AVMA again reached out to the LGVMA, and through the LGVMA, received input from the Human Rights Campaign. Further discussions within the AVMA BOD led us to recognize that in Indiana, as in a majority of U.S. states, there are no explicit state laws protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination—passage of the Indiana RFRA did not impact this at all. However, the City of Indianapolis and Marion County have strong local laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations such as restaurants and theaters. The clarifying legislation that was enacted after Governor Pence signed the Indiana RFRA and then listened the concerns expressed by the AVMA and many others will ensure that these local laws continue to be fully enforceable. Moreover, the AVMA will continue to work to ensure that all attendees are treated with dignity and respect at the 2017 AVMA Annual Convention in Indianapolis—and at all of our Conventions and other meetings that occur throughout the United States.

    I would be happy to discuss this issue further offline. Please feel free to contact me via email at esabin@avma.org.

  2. I believe firmly that when you open a business to serve the public, you are obligated to serve all the public. Your personal beliefs are fine – they can reside in your person intact in whatever form you choose. IMHO you do not have the right to fail to serve someone because they look funny, have tattoos, are different than you, talk differently, or whatever.

    The State should not have to force you to serve those you wish to discriminate against for whatever non-violent reason you choose, and I continue to be perplexed by those who seek to do so. I would hope that those that intend to refuse service to members of the public for whatever personal reason would clearly advertise “No (whatever) served here” so I can avoid wasting time dealing with them.

    If Indiana cannot bring itself to clearly be inclusive, I hope the convention can be moved. I think the legislative intention was quite clear in allowing business owners to discriminate against whomever they choose that is not expressly protected by pre-eminent legislation or court rulings. That is unacceptable.

  3. There are many states with RFRA law in place – per wikipedia:

    There are 21 states that have a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act enacted by their legislature:

    Alabama (state constitution amendment)[33][34]
    New Mexico[37]
    Rhode Island[37]
    South Carolina[37]

    If states with RFRA-like provisions that have been provided by state court decisions—rather than via legislation—are included, the list also contains:[42]

    North Carolina

    Unless you are planning to have a same gender marriage ceremony at the AVMA meeting, these laws will have NO effect on you during a visit to any of these states.

    Is the AVMA planning to boycott all of these states? I am offended by that.

  4. I believe the AVMA needs to make a definitive decision now to change the venue for the 2017 convention from Indianapolis to a city and state that welcome all, period. If this is not done now, there will not be other choices available because of the lead time required to set up for a convention of this size. We are a diverse profession that very much needs to do better in representing that diversity in leadership, university faculty, and government positions.

  5. Thank you for addressing this important issue and I urge the AVMA to move the conference. In support of my LGBT veterinary friends I would not attend this conference in Indiana or anywhere that discrimination is sanctioned.
    Terry Ryan Kane DVM, MS
    AVMA Congressional Fellow 2010-2011

  6. I am very glad the AVMA questioned whether to have the conference in Indiana in 2017 and went the extra steps to ensure Indianapolis is welcoming. I just wish they would have followed through. When I see the headline, “AVMA board of directors supports recent changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” I am very disappointed.
    I want all of the previous commenters to see that the AVMA did NOT follow through and are putting me and anyone in the LGBTQ community at risk while driving through the state. Any business owner can refuse to serve me food in a restaurant or pump gas in my car. The AVMA cannot guarantee anything. It is a state law.

    I called to get a refund on the rest of the year’s membership and not to be contacted again, but I was refused. I have been an AVMA member since 1997, but I will not be anymore.

    Sincerely, Ames Grobstein, DVM

    • Dr. Grobstein: Where did you see the headline that “AVMA board of directors supports recent changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act”? Thanks much!

      • 2017 AVMA Convention Stays in Indiana
        AVMA board of directors supports recent changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
        Published: 2015.04.15 11:04 AM

  7. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I am very thankful to see the AVMA is addressing this issue. I think that the AVMA should consider moving the conference from Indiana in order to recognize and support its LGBTQ members and the general LGBTQ community. Many members of the LGBTQ community have a difficult enough time making it to professional school; let’s not make it hard for them to attend major conferences in their chosen profession as well.

    Kate Fernhoff
    DVM Candidate UC Davis, Class of 2017

  8. I’m very glad to see the AVMA taking a stance on this legislation. As an LGBT member of the community, I agree that it would be appropriate to move the conference at this time to protect its members and to prevent needless division amongst the profession.

    Melissa Rothstein
    DVM Candidate, UC Davis class of 2018

  9. Thank you, AVMA, for taking a stand on this important issue. I am very appreciative of the changes made within the AVMA regarding diversity within the profession over the past several decades. Hopefully the State of Indiana (and others) can catch up.

  10. As a gay Veterinarian I applaud the AVAMA for taking an active involvement in this situation. However I would also encourage AVMA to consider moving next years conference outside the state of Indiana unless the law is repealed. We have had enough discrimination in our society – this is not Russia. Continue the dialogue but do not be afraid of taking a stand against hatred!
    Wayne Hollingshead DVM
    Past President LGVMA, BCVMA

  11. I applaud the AVMA for taking this stance against discrimination. While it may be difficult to change the location of the meeting, if it were to remain in Indiana, they should begin to work on downsizing the size of the conference. I can only imagine that many will be boycotting the conference, barring a miracle in the change of the wording of the law. Also if it still takes place in Indiana, enough sponsors may drop out of sponsorship that it may actually cost more to hold it in there than to move it at this late date.

    As for those who state that the AVMA is not standing up for their rights, nowhere is AVMA prohibiting you from visiting Indianapolis. Nor is the AVMA prohibiting you from your right to have your religious beliefs. Your rights are still intact.

  12. Many thanks to the AVMA for showing your support of all members. As a current veterinary student, it is not uncommon to hear concerns about coming out in a professional setting. As far as we have come, there is still a sense that your opportunities may be limited by being honest about who your partner is. When the AVMA steps up in support of the LGBTQ community it goes a long way to quell those fears.


    Elyse Cherry, Tufts V’17
    Treasurer, Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE)
    Student member, LGVMA

  13. Thank you AVMA for your prompt response in this matter. I am proud to be associated with an organization that is willing to get involved and take a stand on controversial issues. As a transgender person, I know how important it is for organizations to fight discrimination, and I am so proud that my AVMA is working to better our profession, and our community.

    Dane Whitaker, DVM
    Board Member, LGVMA

  14. Indeed, I am proud to be an AVMA member and see that leadership of our organization is truly acting on their commitment to create an organization that takes an active role to not only be diverse in membership but to encourage, foster and stand up for inclusiveness. I would encourage our membership to read the Harvard Business Review article on “Why LGBT Employees Need Workplace Allies”, as it points to the tremendous strength and power of our straight allies. Kudos to Dr. DeHaven for sharing his views with Indiana’s Governor and hopefully reminded the Governor that Purdue’s Veterinary College is the Center for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion for our profession.

    Malcolm Kram DVM CVA

  15. I think the AVMA should relocate the conference to set an example for everyone that discrimination is not tolerated. I appreciate the AVMA’s commitment to equality and inclusivity and think this shows the community that first and foremost veterinarians care about all people and their pets.

    • I agree with the comment about relocation. You have 2 years before this conference. Rather than dink around waiting to see what a bunch of bigoted politicians are going to do, it’s time for the AVMA to do the right thing and leave the state of Indiana to their own doing.

  16. As a Hoosier practicing from Indianapolis I appreciate the AVMA and their concern for diversity. I am deeply concerned about the direction our state government is taking Indiana and do not support the recent Religious Freedom Act as it is currently stated. Our business serves everybody and I expect all businesses in Indiana to do the same. We should be moving forward not backwards and that is exactly what this act does. I encourage the AVMA to put pressure on our local government and continue to fight for what is right.

  17. I have been a veterinarian for over 30 years and a resident of Indiana for much longer. I have seen many changes over those years, both in the profession and in society in general. I am grateful that we are now in a time where the AVMA is expressing concerns about and has apparent opposition to Indiana’s discriminatory RFRA. Thank you – it makes me proud to be an AVMA member.

    A ‘fix’ to the law is due to be released today, but the legislators and governor have stated that they have no intention to repeal the law or to amend the civil rights statute to include LGBT people. I urge the AVMA to reject any fix that falls short of the protections that those actions would provide and make it clear to Gov. Pence that no future AVMA conferences will be held in the state of Indiana.

    Karen Hull
    PUR ’82

  18. Thank you for addressing this issue promptly. The cry of “religious freedom” was used by people who wished to retain their right to discriminate on the basis of race, with people openly declaring that “God does not want the races mixing!” If we would not allow someone to use religion as an excuse to refuse to provide services to an inter-racial couple, then we should not allow it for same-sex couples, either.

  19. As human beings, we actually all do share the same hopes and dreams.
    I believe that people on all sides of this discussion are ultimately coming from the same place- we all want and deserve to have our rights protected. Freedom of religion is fully protected under the constitution. Unfortunately, LGBTQ rights to even simple common sense things such as employment non- discrimination are not. We all hope that laws specific to any interest group would be unnecessary, but until there is a reasonable chance of safety for everyone, we along with people of all races and religions, will continue to work to bring equality to our country and profession.

    Sandy Hazanow
    President, LGVMA

  20. Excellent job AVMA! Wonderful to see support for all our members. Thank You.

  21. I appreciate that AVMA is solidly behind supporting diversity both within the profession and the larger society outside our offices. AVMA is our voice for our profession, and it’s good to know that, along with many others in the business community and elsewhere, we are speaking up.

    We can’t be a strong country unless we embrace the human potential of every citizen, and we can’t be a strong profession if we don’t represent and are prepared to serve an increasingly diverse society.

  22. This stance is one of the reasons that the AVMA no longer represents me. As a religious person, I also have rights that need to be protected. Why is the AVMA not standing up for my rights? Am I lesser of a person because of what my heritage has taught me to believe? This decision in Indiana stems from a presidential law by President Clinton in 1993 protecting everyone’s right to freely express their religion in whatever way they choose. Please do not turn around and discriminate people just because they have a different opinion that you do. You are screaming discrimination out of one side of your mouth and then discriminating against others out of the other side.

  23. I hope the AVMA is prepared to tell Governor Pence that there will be no future meetings in Indiana if this legislation is not corrected.

    Shari Hughes, DVM
    Bloomington, IN

  24. Obviously too late to relocate such an enormous conference.
    How many businesses does AVMA contract with in running the conference? Can you request they give the AVMA copies of their own non-discrimination policies? Tell them you’ll print it in the convention brochure as a its of businesses the publicly promote diversity and do not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, etc etc. (the categories of diversity that AVMA lists)

  25. Great, but what are you going to do when Pence’s “clarification” turns out to be as meaningless and empty as his commitment to non-discrimination? Are you prepared to move your conference? He has already made it clear he has no intention of supporting explicit protections for the GLBT community.

  26. As a Purdue graduate, I appreciate the AVMA taking a firm and rapid stance on this issue.

  27. Thank you for such a prompt response to the situation in Indiana. It is heartening to know that my professional organization is publicly supportive of diversity in the face of politically backed discrimination.

    Karen Purcell DVM
    Wake Forest, NC

  28. Agreed. I am very proud that my AVMA is willing to speak up and attempt to clarify to the State of Indiana how small-minded and mean-spirited the true intent of this “Religious Freedom” law is. I was born and raised in Indiana and I’m downright embarrassed by the ugly politics of some of my fellow Hoosiers. Thanks AVMA, and it’s fine with me if you move the 2017 convention to another state!

  29. On behalf of the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association and the LGBTQ members of our profession, I want to express our sincere appreciation to the leadership and staff of the AVMA for working to guarantee inclusion for all of our members and allied professional communities. It is abundantly clear that AVMA’s work is dedicated to the betterment of our profession and as proud as I am to be a veterinarian, I am even more proud to be involved in a powerful process which reaches even further with the true essence of our work- compassion and community.

    Sandy Hazanow, DVM
    President, LGVMA